A collaborative adventure in a cave.
Kai and Tara took walks in the woods often, but this time was different. First of all, they decided to take a different path than usual. This part of the woods looked different though, it was more overgrown; darker, somehow. To take it even farther off the beaten path, they took a deer path into the shrubs. The brambles tugged at Tara's sweat shirt and at Kai's shoelaces. It was rough, but they loved this sort of thing. The possibility for discovery was just too enticing to pass up. A morel mushroom was growing in the path.|
"See, Tara? I told you there'd be something out here!"
"Uck, I hate those. They're nasty."
"Ah, you just haven't tried them."
"Whatever, just help me through here"
They pushed through an unusually dense wall of brambles. The other side was a completely different sort of forest than the one behind them. A large clearing lay ahead with a large tree in the center. The grass in the clearing was chest high, but it was manageable. They pushed their way through to the tree.
"Wow, look at this thing. Looks like its been here forever…" Kai marveled.
He sat down and leaned against it. He patted the ground next to him and Tara joined him.
"Ahh… Isn't this great? This is great. Isn't it?"
"Yeah its pretty great. I'm kinda thirsty though."
"Hm. Well I suppose we could head back."
Kai stood up, but the ground gave way under his foot and his leg went underground.
"Gah! What the…"
He tried pulling it out but the hole only got bigger and he fell in further.
"Ahh… Um. Tara? Little help here?"
"Sure. Uhh lemme just. Wait. No."
She grabbed his arm and tried to pull but that only made it worse.
"Wait! Tara. Don't. Move. At all."
"It's fine! It'll be fine! Don't worry!"
As Kai said it, the entirety of the ground under Tara and anything left around Kai gave way.
They fell for a good two seconds before landing hard on a bed of leaves. The air was cold and dank.
"Tara? I think we're in a cave."
|Tara and Kai continued exploring a little bit into the cave. In the 20 minutes before they got tired, they found some old nails, more dirt, and a suspicious looking item. A few minutes in, Tara had stumbled (literally) and fell. When she landed she looked up and noticed a box sitting in front of her. It was beautiful and quite ornate. There was a problem though. It was locked and there was no key to be found anywhere near. Kai picked up the box, as well as Tara, and they set off. They came to a split in the tunnel. To the right, you could see a shining light and hear nothing, but to the left, you could only hear voices and see nothing. They were as different as could be. Sight&no sound or sound&no sight. Finally, it was Kai who spoke up.|
"Tara, if you could chose before becoming impaired, would you rather be deaf or blind?"
"I'd rather be deaf. If I were blind I couldn't see the beauty everywhere and I'd be really creeped out living in darkness. Seeing 'Ha, no pun intended, as how I'm quite afraid of the dark."
"To the right we go!"
| The tunnel, while smelling rather strange, was otherwise nice compared to the rest of the cave. Tara was glad they could see, but she couldn't help but wonder about the voices in the other tunnel. After a few minutes of thinking about it, she decided she didn't mind not knowing. Whatever it was, it lived in a cave that, as far as she could tell, had no other entrances which was reason enough not to investigate.|
Kai, on the other hand, wasn't satisfied. Sure, the fact that there was a light was good, but who had been down there? what had been down there? What kind of people would live in a completely secluded dark cave?
The box was becoming cumbersome now, it old rusty handles rubbing his palms, scraping them up. It didn't help that he had twisted his ankle upon landing.
the light was close now, Kai could tell that the chamber ahead was rather large. At first he had hoped that it would be an exit that lay before them, but it was apparent now that this was not the case. The light sparkled, varied in intensity and quantity. It was, most certainly, not natural.
"Gah, Tara, this box is heavy. Can we rest for a minute?"
"Yeah I suppose... But do we have to? We're almost there though! Lets pull on through!
"Fine. But you're going to help me this time."
She grabbed the other side and lifted it with both hands. "Ah... That's better, lets get going!"
They charged ahead, driven by the suspense of whatever lay ahead. When they finally did get to the entrance of the chamber, they found that, in front of them, there was a large archway. It was covered in designs of incredible intricacy, the style of which matched the box almost exactly. It featured only designs that involved things found underground. Bones, tree roots, cave dwelling creatures like worms, and various other things.
Tara marveled at the design quietly while Kai chose to voice his wonderment out loud.
"This is incredible... Tara, look here!"
Tara, however, wasn't listening. Her attention had wandered to the chambers contents. Before them lay a chamber whose interior was covered entirely with giant crystals. They sparkled, the light dancing off the walls and down the tunnel. It was truly a sight to behold.
"Wow..." marveled Kai, "this is great. But wait a minute... this is a cave, where is the light coming from?"
"Kai... I think you should see this."
Kai turned the corner and as soon as he did his question was answered. On a rock sat an old fashioned lantern. It was still full of fuel and burning brightly.
"Kai? Where... where did this come from?"
"I don't know, Tara. But I know one thing. We aren't alone down here.
|Let's go exploring some more!" exclaimed Tara as her excitement grew.|
"I don't really know if it's safe or not Tara.."
"Aren't you ALWAAAYS saying we should try to see as many things as possible?!"
"Well, yes, but.."
"So let's go! Come on Kai it'll be fun I promise!"
"Let's not rush int..."
There was a bright flash and a sound like thunder and next thing Kai knew he was alone in an eerily silent cave and Tara was gone along with the voluminous light that had once surrounded them moments before.
"o anything..Aaaand I lost her.."
Kai tried to find the lantern that had been sitting on the rock for a while but couldn't seem to find it. He decided to turn back and go down the other path to see if Tara had somehow gone without him noticing. He got to the split and went to the other entrance. As soon as he stepped in there was a thud behind him and the voices grew louder with every step further. He tried to turn around but when he got to the end there was an enormous stone blocking his path. There was no way to climb over it or get around it. So he pushed through trying to block out his thoughts and the voices and trudged on..
| His mind was racing as he stepped forward. The voices were almost distinguishable now, and as anxious as he was to find out what they were saying, he dreaded their source. The people talking lived in a cave with no discernible light source. In his mind, this equation did not equal a smiley face. Under the best of circumstances, it could equal a sad face. Maybe. Hopefully.|
He trudged on, his heart racing with his brain now. He gulped.
He took another step. The voices stopped and Kai froze in place. He had been noticed. Hushed whispering began came from all around him.
Suddenly there was a loud crack and a light turned on. Blinded at first, Kai covered his eyes. As he began to adjust to the blinding light, he took his arm slowly away.
Able to see clearly now, Kai looked around. He was standing in front of a massive machine. It was covered in knobs, dials, blinking lights, pistons, cogs, and any number of other components, some of which didn't even serve a purpose as far as he could tell. Wires draped the cavern's ceiling.
Amidst his confusion and amazement, Kai almost missed the fact that he was being watch by more than a few pairs of eyes.
"You there!" said a voice from a previously unnoticed catwalk that hung over his head, "Boy in the jacket! What are you doing? This is a pr-r-r-r-ivate establishmen-n-nt. You can't be down-n-n here! He-e-e-rrre!"
Kai was befuddled. What on earth was going on here? He stared up at the catwalk but there was nothing there. Then the voice moved to behind him.
C-c-c-an't you hear m-m-me boy? Get lost! Lost! Lost! Los-s-s-s-sssssss..."
"Who are you?!" yelled Kai at the voice, "What are you? What's that machine for?"
"Be-e-e-e-eeee polite boy, I-I-I am over here! O-o-o-o-ooover here!
The voice was coming from directly behind him. He turned around slowly. To his surprise and utter horror, the face that stared back at him wasn't human. The source of the voice was a robot. It's head was an old television. It had a red dot on its screen and nothing else. The dot jumped around randomly, intermittently obscured by static. It's body was nothing more than a tangle of wires and a few stray vacuum tubes. Its arms were thin and tipped in pinchers. They were mismatched though, one larger than the other, one pincer with two prongs and one with three. Leg wise, the thing walked on impossibly thin stilts. It balanced on its heels which seemed to be nothing more than a spike.
"Wha... What are you?"
Paradox Enigma T-t-t-t-reeeeyarch, at your ser-er-er-er-vice." the robot said. "Now get off my property, o-o-o-rrr I may have to remove you m-m-m-yself."
|"Well, if you're at my service then why must I leave?!" Kai yelled at the infuriating robot.|
"I-i-I m-may b-ee at your ser-er-er-er-vice bu-t-t-t I-I wor-rk-k f-f-o-r some-o-ne-e e-ls-e-se-se-se" He stuttered back.
"Ah hah! That's it! I know what to do with you now!"
Kai quickly ran behind the robot and took out some string. He tied it up hog-style and set to work on opening him up. Before long he had the back open and was carefully searching through wires trying to find the one that was just one shade of blue off all of the others. Right when he got to one of the corners in the very back he found it.
"Yes!" Kai cried more to the air than himself or whoever may be around to listen.
He started looking around for something to cut it with. He found a needle like object that was thin yet extremely sharp. He cut through the wire and continued to go to work switching some chords around. He soon finished and used the needle-like object to sew the wire together again. Then, he waited. And sat. And waited. Sat some more. And then continued to wait until finally.....
Tara tried to look around. There was nothing but blackness so it didn't do her any good. She realized that and so she started screaming out for Kai.
"KAI! KAI! HELP! I'M STUCK. In this thing! HELP! I need you now!"
Tara continued to shout until her voice grew hoarse. It felt like hours but Tara knew that at the most it only could have been about 30 minutes before she had given it a rest. Now she was sitting in the corner of the thing she was in and was trying to think of happy things and what her and Kai had done earlier on their hike that day. Before they left the trail. Before the ground fell. Before they were sucked into this living nightmare. Tara hated the darkness. The not knowing, It killed her inside. It was literally a living nightmare. Her deepest fear and dreams were always of darkness. Complete, bone-chilling, eerie darkness. Whatever she was in echoed whenever she moved or made any kind of noise. She decided to try and take her mind off the dark by exploring her surroundings. She walked all around her trap. From what Tara could tell there was nothing and no one in there with her. It was a rectangular shape. She had a sudden realization. Tara, had never left the crystalline cavern. She was just in the Box now. She tried to remember which corner it was that she started in so that she could sit and think. Wait. So she picked the one she thought it was and sat down. Tara started to sob. She was here. In pitch blackness. And silence except for her own cries. Facing all of her own fears alone. All of a sudden Tara heard a voice echo around her.
"You're worthless you know. You don't belong here. He left you. The boy only sticks around out of pitty. I hope you know all of this. You'll never mature and be beautiful. All of your fears will come true. And all of your insecurities are very real. You'll never get out of here alive if you don't man up. Get a little courage. Would it, hahaha, no pun intended, kill you?"
The voice filled her. The words broke her. Her tears flowed freely and dripped onto the floor. It sounded like someone turned on the faucet but just barely. She screamed out for Kai. Tara got up and started running blindly. Fighting to find the source of the voice. Needing to tear the person apart. For saying all of those thongs that she thought were true but never dared admit or heard anyone speak allowed...
"I've done it!" Kai shouted excitedly.
"I never thought I could actually do it! I love it down here! I can do all of the things I thought that I'd never be able to! It's amazing! I could cure Cancer! In fact, that's exactly what I'll start on next!"
Kai had gone in and redone the personal wire of the robot so that now he controlled it. Naturally, he was a wiz at science. He could do almost anything. Anything but find Tara that is..
| "C'mon Bot, lets go find Tara. But seriously. We're gunna cure cancer when we get back."|
That didn't answer the question of what the machine was for though.
"Hey Bot, what's this thing for anyway?"
The bot whirred and clicked twice. "Data expunged."
Wonderful. That was okay though, its not like he couldn't figure it out. He led the bot over to the machine and started to tinker. Most of the parts didn't do anything, and most of the lights were just blinking for no reason. The only thing that did seem serve a purpose was a large cavity in the center. It was box shaped, pistons and claws extended at random, and they seemed to be repeating the same action over and over, always ending when a small, oddly-shaped claw extended from the very center.
It was opening the box! It had to be! Kai yelped excitedly.
"C'mon bot let's go!"
He led the bot by its string back down the hall. Until, that is, he stopped as he remembered the extra pairs of eyes that had been here when he first got here. What was that all about? He peered over the barrels of black fluid that were piled haphazardly at the edge of the room.
There were people back there, all of them somehow modified. Kai didn't care to think about it, but they were all implanted with robotic parts. Some of them were lucky enough to have a part that actually did something, but for many, not so much so. Most of them lay on the ground due to lack of a good appendage. The others seemed so traumatized that they stared at him, wide-eyed and unblinking.
"Um. Hello? Can you understand me?"
The one nearest to him let out a small noise and fell over. These things were a lost cause. He decided Tara was more important.
"Bot, let's go, we've got bigger fish to fry." This time they made it all the way down the hallway to the rocks that blocked the path.
"Bot, I'm gunna need your help, I need you to move these rocks. Alright? Bot?"
The bot stood there, red dot facing the ground. It whirred. "Command unrecognized."
"Bot! Move the rocks!" No response. "Bot, come on already!"
Maybe he was saying wrong. What was it it had called itself before? Something he had learned about in English a while back... Para-something...
"Paradigm! I command thee to move these rocks!"
This time it didn't even bother to give the command a thought.
Kai sat down on a rock. This was hopeless. Tara was probably hurt or worse... and it was all because he couldn't remember... remember... Ugh, what was it! He couldn't know it without re-wiring it but he couldn't rewire it without knowing! What a paradox!
"Paradox..." Kai whispered to himself. The bot whirled around to face him.
"Awaiting command." It said.
"Um, move those rocks?"
The bot didn't even say anything, just went straight to work tossing rocks over its back. After a minute or two some light peeked through a crack.
"Yes! Keep going!" As he said it the bot picked up its pace. Eventually there was only one excessively large boulder left. The robot pushed against it but it wouldn't budge.
It tried for thirty more seconds before it froze, spun to face him, and said, "Action cancelled, awaiting command."
Kai sat back down. This was a dead end. At least, he thought so until he heard a sound from the dark. One of the least-modified of the people wandered out of the dark. He coughed.
"Allow me." He wheezed. He led Kai back into the machines chamber, tipped over one of the barrels, and pushed it as hard as he could down the tunnel. It rolled out of view. Then the whole cavern shook as it hit the other side and exploded.
"Wow, thanks! Care to come along, I can get you out of here you know."
The man coughed for awhile, "No, thank ya much, I have to stay back and help the others. Maybe I'll see ya 'gain some day though." He held out his robotic hand to shake, Kai shook it, and they both went on their way.
The tunnel was clear, and whatever was in that barrel had shattered many of the crystals and scorched the entrance to the tunnel. The box lay where they had left it in the middle of the cavern. Kai didn't know what to do next, so he knelt down next to the box to look at the carvings while he thought about it. The box was somehow different though... The carvings were... off. They had all changed, actually. Every living creature had been replaced by...
It was then that Kai knew exactly what to do next. "Bot! I mean... Paradox! Pick this box up, were going back!"
|Kai and Paradox started to walk back to the other tunnel but were, once again, blocked.|
"Paradox! Move that giant piece of medal so we can go on at once!" Kai commanded.
"Si-I-r-rrr. I-I c-c-c-c-can-n't t-t-tou-uch th-th-that." It replied.
"And why not?!"
"I-I-I w-i-ll-ll-ll me-l-l-lt."
Kai didn't want to test the theory or find out why it'd melt his new-found servant. So he just sat down. And started thinking. How in the WORLD had Tara managed to get stuck inside the box? She had a way of getting herself into strange situations but..this? This was a whole 'nother story. He didn't want to leave as much as the next genius mind, but he needed to find Tara and as soon as he did that he was sure she'd want to go. He was holding the box and it took a minute before he realized that there was a slight noise coming from it. He could only assume that it was her.
"Tara! Hold on and don't go anywhere! Not that you could, but still! I'll save you!"...
I heard an echoing.. Could it be Kai?! I got up ad ran to the side of the box but when I blindly hit it, I heard a small cracking noise. Like grass cracking. The box wasn't glass. Tara stopped feeling things once she landed on her back and went all fuzzy...
Kai heard a small cracking noise come from the corner of the room. He would've investigated further but the only thing over there was the small square lantern that had been there when they had come in. He thought it strange. But oh well. He had the box to open of course. He had to save Tara!
| "For god's sake Paradox, just pick it up."|
No response. Kai grabbed onto the handle and heaved. The box scraped the ground and moved about an inch. "Gah c'mon Bot... Help me.." Scraaape, "This is... so heavy..."
The robot watched the ground. It turned away.
"AAARRGH! COME ON!" He paced to the other side of the room, the shards of crystal crunching under his feet. Then he paced back.
The noise came from the corner again. What was that?
Kai paced over in agitation. In the corner, however, lie an even smaller box. It was a music box, damaged but still semi-functional.
Clink. Scraaape. Clink. Then it skipped a few notes. Then; Scrape. Clink, plink, clinkclink, plink.
Upon closer inspection, it turned out that the arm was bent out of place and needed a quick tweak. He bent it back crudely into place. It hit two of the notes it had missed before but was still not working right.
One more bend, one more tweak. And that should just about do it...
Sure enough, the arm hit all the notes and the melody played perfectly. It was nice. Nothing too extraordinary.
Two high notes, two low, one middle, high, low. Then a pause. Then low, low, high, brief pause, middle, middle, low.
Looping like it was it sounded sort of eerie. Sort of... off. The melody played once more and then stopped.
Kai, frustrated at the fact that this had gotten him nowhere, tossed the box aside and stomped across the room.
The box was missing. What on earth?
Paradox was standing on the other side of the room, holding the box above his head, his hands bubbling, melting slowly. Bits of molten metal dripped on his screen like tears.
"Request.... Acknowledged. Carry-out procedure... initiated..." The robot took a step forward, straining to carry the unruly object with his tiny arms and even tinier legs. He wobbled.
Kai, now realizing the gravity of the situation, grabbed Paradox's string and pulled him forward, "Come on, we don't have much time!"
Halfway down the tunnel, the box was resting on the top of Paradox's head, his arms having melted off near the entrance. One carefully placed step after the next, they made their way down the hall. Kai could only assume that this felt like the time Kai had been made to carry an entire box of various party supplies while wearing his mother's high-heeled shoes. That was a story for another day, though. The entrance to the cavern was right in front of them when the robot fell to its knees and the box toppled to the ground. The man who had helped him escape the first time was still there, helping the other less-mutilated people out of their comatose state.
Kai shouted across the room, "Hey, could I get some help over here?"
The man obliged, helping Kai carry the box up the steps and into the machine. Back on the ground, some of the newly-awoken people were helping the robot up. The top of its head was dented and burned, but it never broke the surface. Its arms, however, were mere stumps and its left leg was bent in half. Static danced across its screen.
The man helped him to lower the box into the machine. As soon as it hit the platform, the machine leapt to life. It poked and prodded at the box.
After a moment, when Kai was able to examine what it was doing more closely, he realized that this was no ordinary box, but a very large, very intricate puzzle box.
An arm slid a small bit near the lid forward. This allowed for another nearby piece to be rotated. Then, it slid another piece from the middle of the piece that was rotated out from in front of a large piece that slid down that.... Well. Kai lost track at this point. It slid a piece around back and he couldn't see what was happening.
When the arms worked back around front, it slid the entire front side of the box to the left about an inch, revealing the keyhole.
Somewhere on the back side, a key must have been revealed because one popped out of a slot on the front of the machine and landed at Kai's feet. He picked it up.
The box, now un-lockable, was raised onto a platform from below then lowered back to the ground.
Kai, hands trembling, put the key into the keyhole and turned it. The lid popped open.
The box did not contain Tara. Instead, it was completely packed full of toy mice. One was moving, scraping the outer edge of the box. A note covered with some unintelligible scribbling and a drawing of a square with a face lay on top.
Kai dug through the mice. It couldn't be true! The box didn't contain anything else, just mice.
Kai slumped down against the nearest barrel of unidentified volatile chemical and nearly cried.
What was there to do now?
| Tara, in the meantime, was beginning to despair. The lantern seemed endless on the inside. It was bright, but the loneliness was crushing. She lay down on her back to look at the cloudless sky.|
She wasn't even entirely sure how she had gotten to this point. The lantern was on the rock, and then there was a flash, and then... then this. There was nothing here.
After awhile, she took note of the lack of bodily functions. She was not hungry. She was not thirsty. She even checked to make certain that her heart was still beating.
Kai was in a similar state of mental disrepair. The moving toy mouse had escaped its box and was now very, very slowly making its way across the cave floor. Paradox, indifferent to the affair, stood teetering on the catwalk.
At this point, Kai slowly put 2 and 2 together. The paper had to have some kind of significance. He gave it another look.
The face expressed age. It wore a beard and was bald. A second look at the box revealed that the lock was actually a face, a face with a small, square indent on its forehead.
He pressed it.
| Tara felt a sudden jolt as there was a rushing in her body. She checked for her heart beat again. Slowly, and faintly, it was there. Every once in a while she caught herself breathing. Blinking. It wasn't much but it was something. She became aware of the brightness. The lantern. Right. |
As she was in the lantern though, she had vague memories of complete darkness and four walls. She thought on it for a while and at first she decided that she had only been imagining it. On second thought, she figured something strange must be going on, considering she was inside of a lantern.
"Kai! Help! Help meee!" Tara yelled as loud as she possibly could. She never felt out of breath or even tired.
Kai could not get over himself. He had pressed the indent and nothing had happened. Absolutely nothing! He paced back and forth slowly at first, gaining speed with every repetition. "this is stupid!" Kai yelled out, clearly exasperated. Kai went back to the key and he stared at it intently.
-Back in the crystalline cavern, the crystals began to glow and fade out-
| Kai went back to his wallowing. Tara was probably gone for good. The God forsaken box was no good at all. The mouse was wedged in a corner, thumping one of the hazmat barrels repeatedly. Kai decided he was probably going to die here, alone, in this cave.|
However, a sudden jolt snapped him out of it. Although the motion hadn't fazed Paradox whatsoever, Kai inquired about it anyway.
"Paradox, what was that?"
"Main System Drivers online. System rebooting."
"What system, what are you talking about?"
"Mainframe Alpha online."
"Paradox, what is that, what is wrong?!"
the floor underneath of them shifted. Kai was thrown off balance, as was Paradox, who, without his arms, fell flat on his face. His screen shattered.
The deafening noises of 1000 machines powering on and moving drowned out Kai's cries of anguish.
In the box, more mice began to move. Their clockwork insides began whirring and clicking, driving the tiny wheels on the bottom of the mice. Several escaped the box before the machine slammed it shut. A robot arm came down from the ceiling and stole it away. The arm was noticeably rusted and hardly functioning any more. It looked as though it had been designed long before most robotics, as it was essentially a pair of automated tongs being controlled by a rope and a bundle of wires. Kai, ears plugged, stumbled over to Paradox, who was unable to stand.
Kai rolled the hunk of metal over to find what the glass veil had hidden.
Kai couldn't believe what his eyes beheld.
| Located where the screen should be, there was a picture. It wasn't just any picture. This was a picture that had been taken earlier on in the school year, at a party..|
~The fall of Kai and Tara's Junior year~ Kai and Tara walked into the start of the year party. They had been friends forever and Tara had gotten an invite so she invited Kai. The party was that of a senior and it was rumored that he threw the best parties. It had been a pool party and Kai wasn't quite feeling up to hanging out with these people. He had recently become more popular and he wasn't all that ecstatic. While Tara went to go catch up with some of her group, Kai went to find a quiet corner.
Tara was in the pool with her girlfriends and talking to people when someone started talking about pictures. There were cameras everywhere. Tara wanted to get a picture with Kai so she went to find him, noticing that he wasn't with her.
Kai was hiding out by the pond. There was a gazebo there with a three-person swing. It was a rather peaceful place compared to the rest of the party. There was no one else there, and for that, he was grateful. He was skipping stones on the pond when Tara finally showed up, almost dry from how long it took her to find him. "Sorry, I got caught up several times on the way out here. Beginning of the year and all, there are just too many people to catch up with!"
Kai had told Tara that it was alright and that he didn't much feel like mingling alone, so Tara went with him. They were about to go talk to the small group of mutual friends they had at the party, when they were stopped by the pool. Someone was going to take a big group photo so they immediately obliged.
After the bigger photo Kai pulled Tara along trying to make his way to their friends. Tara, upon seeing a guy with a polaroid camera, stopped Kai so that they could take a picture of just the two of them. They took two so that they would both have a copy. Tara was holding on to Kai as though she couldn't stand on her own. She had been laughing about a comment he had made right before the man took the picture and she began to cry. Kai was smiling at Tara as if he had never seen something so wonderful, and yet like she was his own secret.
The last time Kai had seen either of the photos, they had been in their lockers.~
Kai reached in and took the photo out. Behind that picture, he found another. This picture had been taken on Kai and tara's first day of eighth grade.